The Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Electorate is Larger than You Think


Summary: In 2012, there were 10.8 million AAPI eligible voters and in 2016, we estimate this number to be 12.0 million. Using a conservative estimate of voter registration rates from 2012, we estimate that there are about 7.1 million AAPI registered voters in 2016.

It is Election Day 2016, and there is significant news interest in Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) voters. There are different estimates floating around of the number of eligible AAPI voters, with variation based on whether one is looking only at registered voters (a 2015 UCLA study pegs the number at 5.9 million) or eligible voters (a 2016 Pew report pegs the number at 9.3 million). One limitation to these estimates, however, is that they do not account for both Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, including multiracials who identify in either category.

As we highlight below, the AAPI eligible voter population is significantly larger than has been assumed, based on two factors.

1. AAPIs include multiracials: Since 2000, the U.S. Census Bureau has allowed respondents to check more than one box when it comes to racial identification. Most tables in American FactFinder report out numbers only for “Asian alone” or “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone,” and this is also true for the Citizen Voting Age Population tabulations that the Census Bureau puts out. However, public-use microdata from the American Community survey reveal that 57% of the NHPI population identifies as NHPI and some other race, and the same is true of 15% of the Asian American population. Importantly, 2% of the AAPI population identifies as both Asian and as Pacific Islander.

Thus, any estimates of the resident or eligible voter population based only on Asian alone or NHPI alone will underestimate the size of the AAPI population, as illustrated below using our calculations of the latest microdata from the American Community Survey (2014 1-year ACS PUMS). [Table 1 is excerpted from our Quick Stats page]

Table 1. Citizen Voting Age Population Estimates for 2014

2. AAPIs are undergoing rapid population growth: Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) are the fastest growing racial groups in the United States today, and have been so since 2000. It is therefore critical to update numbers on AAPIs as often as possible. To give just one example, the group 18millionrising was formed in 2012, when the latest available estimates indicated about 18 million AAPIs. As of 2014, however, there were more than 20 million AAPIs, and we estimate that there are about 22.1 million Asian American & Pacific Islander residents in 2016.

Using these two principles above, we obtain the following estimates of AAPI eligible voters (adult citizens) and AAPI registered voters for 2016:

a) Linear projection of AAPI eligible voters from using ACS 1-year files from 2010 through 2014 gives us growth from 10.8 million adult citizens in 2014 to 12.0 million AAPI adult citizens in 2016

b) Using a conservative estimate of voter registration rates from 2012 (59.6% among AAPIs “alone or in combination” in the 2012 Current Population Survey Voter Supplement), we estimate that there are 7.1 million AAPI registered voters in 2016.

We consider this to be a conservative estimate of AAPI voter registration because it is likely that voter registration rates in 2016 are higher than in 2012, with increases in citizenship and voter registration efforts among  AAPI-serving organizations, and with automated voter registration in states like Oregon and California.